The Spermaceti Whale - Rare Book Click to enlarge image
A selection of weird whale illustrations found in rare books, as curated and displayed by Adria Castellucci. Details: "The Spermaceti Whale", in The Naturalist’s Library, Volume 7: Mammalia. Whales. Edited by William Jardine. 1843 edition Image: Nick Langley
© Australian Museum

Among our oldest titles are:

  • Libri de piscibus marinis... Lugdini, 1554, by Guillaume Rondelet
  • Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon... Basileae, 1557, by Conrad Lycosthenes
  • Icones animalium quadrumpedum viviparorum et oviparorum... Tiguri, 1560, by Conrad Gesner

Areas of particular strength in our collection are books relating to the early European exploration of Australia and the Pacific, and natural history dating from the same period. Examples of the former are published accounts of Cook's voyages; the First Fleet (by Surgeon John White, 1790; John Hunter, 1793 and David Collins,1804); and the French voyages of exploration.

Important natural history works include those by the authors Buffon, Cuvier, Linnaeus and Fabricius, as well as George Shaw, George Perry, P.A. Latreille, and William Swainson. In addition to John Gould's Birds of Australia, the collection includes his monographs on The Ramphastidae, The Odontophorinae, The Macropodidae and The Mammals of Australia.

Many of the works in the rare book collection contain beautiful hand-coloured plates and scientific diagrams. We also hold a significant number of nineteenth century books and serials about Australian and Pacific anthropology.

What makes the heritage part of the collection particularly interesting is the book history or copy specific evidence. Many of the books in the collection belonged to well-known early natural historians for example William Swainson. Book bindings, bookplates and inscriptions have a lot to tell us. There is evidence of Australia being strongly connected to a network of natural history researchers around the globe throughout the nineteenth century. It is this copy-specific evidence which makes an individual book valuable beyond its content.

Researchers interested in rare books are required to arrange an appointment by contacting the Library. All materials are held on closed access. Visitors will need to adhere to special conditions when using the collection. Proof of identity is required.

Contact the Research Library